Being Average: My journey to being a student

I remember an instance during an interview, when I was asked that what the defining moment of my life was. I was caught off-guard. Not because I didn’t have an answer to that question. The reason why I was stumped by the question was that, I knew I had no such ‘defining moment’, what I didn’t know was how to reply back. After several awkward moments of silence and stares, I managed, “No. I can’t think of anything right now, Sir”. The disappointment in his face showed. Supposedly, such an answer was not commonplace as the interviewer told me that I should have prepared better, and I should know myself better. With a restrained smile I answered, “Sir, I do know what I’m talking about. It isn’t such, that every action I took in my past was guided by motivation. Even so, if you want, then for the sake of answering, I can concoct a story about the same, but it wouldn’t be true”. My interview was over shortly thereafter, and it goes unsaid that I wasn’t selected.

After that short excerpt from my life, which by the way, most of you would find it to be irrelevant to what I’m going to talk about next, but I request you to have patience for now.

In the ‘World of education’, which I’ve known so far, people are basically classified into three broad categories; The Genius or the Know-It-All, The Average and The Lame. It’s not something which I opine, rather, it is a general tendency of human beings to judge people, have an opinion about others, and have expectations from them, as well. People are judged on the basis of what they know and how they perform, right from school days. The one who is commonly known as the ‘Topper’ is the one who’s supposedly a genius in the eyes of the teacher, and a Know-It-All in the eyes of his classmates. He’s the one who takes away the ‘glory’. The one who knows the least and doesn’t make much sense is labelled as ‘Dumb’ or ‘Lame’. He’s the one who champions the extra-curricular activities. Then comes the third category or ‘The Average’. The average is someone, who is good for nothing. Neither does he excel in studies, nor extra-curriculars. He is a mediocre performer who struggles to thrive among the best, but ultimately lives a life of mediocrity. He tries to be motivated by the “Great People” of his time, and is expected to live on the philosophies of those who “Lead by example”. And who could understand it better than someone like me, who has felt the pangs of being overshadowed by the ‘Outperformers’. But is the reality really the way it is perceived by others. I’ll leave it up to you to judge.

Having passed my 12th board examinations with ‘not so flying colors’, I decided to pursue a career in Chemistry, as it was the only subject where I believed that I was slightly above average. But owing to the stiff competition, I failed to secure a seat in any of the premier Science colleges in India. That was when I felt, I should take a year’s gap to prepare for the Engineering entrance exams to pursue a career in Chemical Engineering. My relatives and neighbors, who supposedly had a better opinion regarding my career, wanted me take up a career in Mathematics as I scored decent marks in my board exams. Having heard their jibes and comments, I decided to ignore them, and do what I felt was best for me.

A year later, I found myself in a similar situation, with the ‘prophecies’ of my relatives coming true. I did get Chemical engineering, but in colleges which had no repute. It was then that I read an article about Food Process Engineering, which was considered to be a ‘Sunrise sector’ and would have ample growth opportunities in the future. Three colleges of decent reputation, in the West Bengal University of Technology, offered the degree. Being related to my subject of interest, I decided to take it up. I once again had to face the jibes of my ‘well-wishers’.

Three years passed by and I was into my final year of graduation. The placement season had arrived. Till then, I didn’t manage to rank amongst the top 10 of my department, and had barely managed an eight point CGPA. Most of my batch mates had decided to take up whatever job or role was being offered to them, as all they needed to have was a job. I on the other hand, waited. I felt that the reason why I had pursued Food Technology was because I wanted to work in a firm where I could practically apply the concepts I had learnt over the four years. I refused to sit in any IT company as it was nowhere related to what I’d learnt. A couple of small food processing firms offered jobs, but neither the growth opportunity nor the salary offered was enticing. My hopes of securing a decent job were getting dim with every passing day. The Head of our department once said “Beggars cannot be choosers. Grab the opportunity you have at hand”. I decided to wait. It was towards the end of my final semester, when the results of the aptitude test held by ITC Ltd. Foods Division were out. Fortunately enough, I had cleared the round. A group discussion and personal interview round followed shortly. Competing with the best candidates from five different departments was not an easy task. Without raising my hopes too high, I went for the GD. Having cleared the round, I faced the PI. When the results came out, I could only thank my stars as I was among the three selected candidates.

B.Tech. was overly soon enough and we were supposed to face a rigorous training program of 6 months, during which if we failed to perform, our stint as a graduate engineering trainee would end then and there. It was during those 6 months of work, that I unraveled the true potential within me and performed to my capabilities. At the end of the stint, I was offered a job and the role of a Manufacturing Executive at ITC Foods. The month of January 2013, brought subtle changes in my life. I was transferred to a different manufacturing unit, and I was working in night shifts more often than what I used to do earlier. The responsibilities had increased dramatically. It was then that I got the opportunity to attend ‘Connect’ a program organized by ITC where engineers and top-level management could meet and interact in a three day seminar. Hardly did I realize that it would change my entire perspective of looking into the way things were. I realized that there was more to me than just being involved in the execution of the jobs assigned to me in the shop floor. I developed a strong interest in the management aspect of operations involved in a manufacturing unit.

.Over the next four months, I made up my mind to prepare for the Common Admission Test and try to learn the ropes of management by studying in a premier institute. However, allocating time to studies was next to impossible given the fact that we didn’t get holidays even during weekends and to add to it was the irregularities in life working in both shifts. Towards the end of April, I had realized that the only way I could get into a decent college was to devote time whole-heartedly to preparations. I called up my boss to inform him about my decision to quit. What followed was a long lecture on how it was difficult to find a decent job these days, and how someone like me, who was an ‘average student’ should not let go of a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. When I told him that my decision was firm, all he had to say was that ‘Over confidence’ from someone of my caliber was not good and that wouldn’t take me much further. To that I only had one reply, “I might be an average student, but that has nothing to do with why I shouldn’t be confident”.

However, to be honest, I myself wasn’t too sure of the decision I’d taken, nor were my relatives or my ‘well-wishers’. My family and a selected few friends of mine supported me throughout all decisions which I’d taken in my life and they gave me a thumbs-up to go ahead with what I’d planned for my career. After 6 months of rigorous coaching and practice on my behalf, I appeared for CAT 2013. I felt I’d done decently well. However, in an exam with nearly 2 lakh applicants, I wasn’t too sure of what the future had in store for me.

Two months passed, and it was the second week of January 2014, when the results were declared. I sat on a chair staring into the screen for several seconds just to absorb the enormity of the fact that I’d scored a 99.43 percentile in CAT. My happiness knew no bounds. Shortly thereafter, I received several calls from the new IIMs and other premier colleges as well. However, I felt slightly dejected on not having received calls from IIM B, C, K and I. I did however get calls from the Agri-Business Management program of IIM A and L. The results were declared during the months of April to June and I’d converted the IIM L-ABM call and was waitlisted 6 in the IIM A-ABM programme. I had converted all the calls from the 6 new IIMs and IIM S as well. As happens with every other candidate, I was in a fix as to which institute I should select. Most people advised me to go with IIM L-ABM as not only was Agri-Business related to the industry where I’d worked in, but it was from one of the best colleges in India. I was left to debate in my mind whether I should actually do as most people said, or should I follow my initial plan of studying in an institute where I could learn the ropes of managing the operations in an industry with a much broader opportunity. I never had so many choices before in my entire career and therefore, the ‘plethora of choices’ confused me.

It was then, that I went to my dad to ask for his advice. What he said would remain etched in my mind forever. ‘It is good to ask for advice. It is good to take up the positives from the advices and follow them. But, it is equally essential to remember that eventually you are going to be the one who decides what best for you. You’ve always proved time and again that being an average student doesn’t make you any less. You’ve taken the path less taken and have proved that one should pursue a career in what one is truly interested, and I suggest you do the same.’

I finally decided to join SJMSoM, IIT Bombay, which according to many wasn’t in the same league as IIML, but all I knew was that, it was one of the best colleges when it came to pursuing a career in General Management, where my specialization would not be pre-decided.  All throughout my life, I’ve learnt to look at the positives instead of ‘crying over spilled milk’. My life never had a “single defining moment”, which changed me in a great way. It wasn’t as if I always had to look up to someone or something to keep me motivated. Motivation comes from within. I followed my heart and I did what I felt was best for me, and I daresay I did better than many who were considered to be ‘superior’ to me. It’s not that I didn’t commit any mistakes in my life, indeed I have. But now when I look back, I realize that having no regrets in your life, is what matters most. I’ve completed a semester at college and am going good. And when the time comes, I’m sure I’ll prove my mettle once again. And as I’ve said earlier, and would reiterate, “It is up to you to choose whether you want to Rise, ‘coz ‘Average’ is just another word!!”


Reeju Guha                                                                                                                 Master of Management (2014-16)                                                                         SJMSoM, IIT Bombay